Creating a Community Self-Help Internet Empowerment Model;
Building on Ten Years of Community Internet Innovations!

        Taos, NM, has vast experience, based on multiple funded initiatives over the past ten years, exploring the
          potential of Internet for building local collaborative capacity and self-sufficiency. Taos would be the perfect
          site for a major two-year, integrated community initiative to build on the many lessons learned and to create
          a showcase model of the many specific ways similar communities can empower themselves.

On the national front, there has been confusion as to just what community networking is, or can become. The need exists to clarify what’s known to produce community benefit and what barriers still exist.

          Determining what rural communities can do for themselves regarding Internet, and self-empowerment, is
          a major component for addressing the national concern about the digital divide issue.

Taos, NM, is in the third poorest county in the poorest state in the Union, yet has been a leader in innovative community Internet projects since the early 1990's when the La Plaza Telecommunity became the first rural web-based community network in the country. For many years, national recognition of the innovative nature of Taos has been addressed in the national media. Taos figures prominently in the literature on community networking.

The La Plaza Telecommunity today is busy connecting local schools, libraries, hospitals, surrounding communities, and the Taos Pueblo with high speed wireless Internet connections, and has multiple initiatives including a project to assist local artists in creating web pages to promote their artwork, a four-year major cancer-related health initiative, and other projects.

In 1995, Taos hosted a national community networking conference funded by Apple Computer and the Morino Institute, which created an important showcase for community innovations from all over the country.

In 1999, thanks to Judith Pepper, director of La Plaza, and Bill Swann, Taos won a Kellogg MIRA (Managing Information for Rural America) grant which provided ten community teams with the opportunity to participate in six one day workshops to learn how to create proposals for community information technology projects. The opportunity exists to extend this innovative model with a local emphasis on including more citizens, and community leaders, in raising their awareness of how they can use the Internet to build new businesses and community opportunities. Taos MIRA contact: Dawn Redpath, .

These projects, include:

1. An Artists Ecommerce Web-Promotion initiative

2. A "Healing Arts" Ecommerce Web-Promotion initiative

3. A Youth-based Ecommerce/Digital Film-making Initiative (Chamisa Mesa School)

4. Two Taos Pueblo Outreach projects

5. An Outdoor Education Youth project

6. The Questa community training project (using Wireless IP) Emphasis on Hispanic Elderly.

Despite new national funding initiatives for community technology centers from the U.S. Dept. of Education and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, there is a real need to identify what local communities can do for themselves, particularly addressing new Ecommerce and cultural applications of Internet connectivity.

Community Self-Publishing has been identified as an specific opportunity in a recent report by the Children’s Partnership titled "Online Content for Low Income Internet Users." Strategies for direct citizen involvement in creating local content of the highest local relevance possible, needs to be demonstrated.

The Markle Foundation has asked the Children’s Partnership for assistance designing major implementation projects to address the digital divide and community networking issues.

The opportunity exists to build on the many lessons learned from the diverse experience of multiple Taos projects and to break new ground with implementation strategies replicable by communities nationally.

A "Community Self-Empowerment Curriculum" has been created by Lone Eagle Consulting specifically for multicultural communities based on direct experience with Taos citizens. Specifically, the "Crosscultural Self-Directed Learner’s Internet Guide" created for AT&T and the ERIC Clearinghouse can be viewed and/or downloaded from a link at the top of
Printed copies are available for $10 each at

As a tri-cultural community, and particularly with the innovative spirit of members of the Taos Pueblo, the opportunity exists to address the culturally appropriate uses of the Internet at all levels.

As a recreational Mecca, and as a hub for artisians and the healing arts, Taos has many directions to explore opportunities in use of the web for promoting local services.

Project Themes:

1. Native American Wireless Testbed and Self-Empowerment Strategies -Determining Native American perspectives on the best way to use Internet in a culturally sensitive manner and how to provide online training and self-empowerment opportunities for the other Pueblos and potentially Native Americans nationally. The wireless connections La Plaza will be providing to the Pueblo have dramatic implications as to new opportunity for Ecommerce and cultural expression, as well as important policy implications related to FCC limitations on use of wireless models. Since tribal lands are not under federal jurisdiction, waivers to allow no license wireless (highest capacity) are viable and under serious consideration. The implications for all rural communities are profoundly important, as voice phone service over wireless would be included, at dramatically lower costs than have been previously available.

Gloria Trestafani is New Mexico’s FCC board representative, and one of the most vocal FCC board members. As a contender for the role of Governor, inviting her to see the Pueblo Wireless connections in operation might be an important opportunity to engage the FCC’s support for a Pueblo Testbed Project.

2. Hispanic Self-Empowerment Strategies - Involving the Hispanic community through local access sites, local mentoring, and Awareness Fiestas/presentations.

3. Youth-Driven Ecommerce Awareness Initiative – Youth demonstrations of local successful Ecommerce applications, and the availability of new free Ecommerce web site authoring, provide the opportunity for drawing together the necessary community partners to create sustaining programs for citizen Ecommerce start-ups and local mentoring to create a true information age "Learning Community." The Taos Business Allience would be a key partner to bring the financial community to the table to review and discuss what new strategies would be the best for all concerned.

4. Women’s Ecommerce Start-Up Mentorship Program - The WESST initiative (Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team) has won several other major grants to help Taos meets its own potential, as well. The opportunity exists to create a Women’s Ecommerce Mentoring Program where women learn to create their own Ecommerce Web Sites and then mentor and encourage other women to learn to create similar sites.

New Mexico has a new Telecom policy with important implications which we’d need to learn more about, particularly regarding the possibility of articulating a statewide community networking initiative..

The Gates Foundation is providing all NM Pueblos with funding for initial Internet connectivity, creating the opportunity to address the best possible uses, and training programs and content. The Foundation intends to fund Native American connectivity in a five state area in the coming years, creating the opportunity for NM Pueblos to address the issue of what culturally appropriate training and uses might be for all Native Americans.

5. Create a Taos CDROM with an Ebusinesses web directory, panorama images of the area, an archive of still photos, and other multimedia files that would be difficult to access over 28.8 modem connections…as both a fundraiser and as a promotional piece.

6. Create a local competition for youth, similar to Thinkquest, where youth create quality content, and perhaps even instructional content, for the Taos Chamber Web site. Cyberfair is another community competition model where youth would create web pages to celebrate local heros, culture, organizations, art, history, etc. See for detailed explanation and URLs for existing competition models.

7. Create a local MIRA-like workshop program to provide a series of mini-workshops to create project teams similar to the 1999 Kellogg MIRA program (

8. Create a Community Talent Database as presented at the A+ Locator site,, where one can see topical listings of citizen’s expertise with offerings of free online mentorship; a model relevant to local and global citizen-to-citizen teaching!

9. Create a formal Community Computer Recycling program; Taos students have refurbished hundreds of computers to supply local school computer labs, lead by

10. Create an Internet Masters program, modeled after the Master Gardeners program, where participants receive 30 hours of instruction with the obligation to provide 30 hours mentoring others, in return. The 4-H is doing this nationally!

Two Partner Sites to Create a National Community Futures Project

Dillonet,, in Dillon, MT, Pop. 4,000, is a community technology center lead by two innovative retired teachers. As a finalist in the international Bangemann Challenge for innovative community projects, and also for the America Online Rural Innovations Challenge, Dillonet has created public Internet access sites and training opportunities in nine surrounding rural communities. Yet the state lacks the understanding of the significance, even with a senator as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Telecommunications.

The need exists for external recognition and validation of this very significant community empowerment model and to determine what barriers our leadership has to recognizing the dramatically innovative leadership that’s being demonstrated at the grassroots level.

The Missouri Express Community Information Networks initiative was created by the Missouri legislature in 1996, which provided six million dollars to create 33 community information networks to provide Internet access to those who would otherwise go without such access. Today, these networks have important stories to tell, and lessons-learned to share. As the most developed statewide community networking initiative in the country, the opportunity exists to build on the best Missouri community efforts and to share their knowledge with other communities, nationally.

Two Major Community Networking Partners offering Expertise:

The Association for Community Networking in a national organization comprised of many of the early pioneers of community networking initiatives.

The Texas Community Networking Initiative

 Existing Grant Proposals we can draw from:

Seventh Generation Community Initiative: A Model for Native American Sovereignty

The Community Bootstrap Initiative "Doing for Ourselves- Together"

Culture Club – Community content and self-publishing to address the global need for culturally appropriate Internet training visions and resources. Includes a Lone Eagles Apprenticeship Ecommerce program.

Youth-Driven Community Internet Awareness initiatives are described in Chapter Seven of the "Good Neighbor’s Guide to Community Networking"

The following very recent concept paper is recommended reading: "The New Gold Rush: Mining Raw Human Potential with Free Web Tools."